Is bike riding just easier for Tadej Pogačar? It certainly looked that way at the Slovenian rider’s first race of the season in Spain as he embarked on a solo mission of over an hour to take victory. His winning attack was almost casual. Maybe once we would have been surprised by the audacity of the UAE Team Emirates rider to think that he had a chance to stay away alone to the finish for the next 40 kilometres of racing, but these days, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before.
Take Strade Bianche last year for example, Pogačar won the race with a 50km solo exhibition on the white roads of Tuscany. He took victory by nearly 40 seconds in the end. Everyone else was suffering in the wild winds, haggard and defeated by the crashes that had marred a brutal race. Pogačar had the scars of battle visible on his ripped jersey, but barely seemed bothered by his earlier date with the gravel.
“I made my best effort on the Santa Maria and nobody followed,” Pogačar matter of factly said after that race. It’s quite simple when he puts it like that, isn’t it? I was the strongest rider so I decided to attack, no one else was strong enough to come with me, so I went on to win the race.
But cycling isn’t meant to be a simple sport. The thought, tactics and nuances in races are what makes them so intriguing. There’s nothing quite like the tension building as riders watch each other like hawks during the anticipation of who will attack and when, some of them burning their matches too early, others playing their cards perfectly so that they use their power exactly when the time is right. It’s hard to match the excitement of a close-run sprint to the line that is won by a whisker, a couple of watts, a final lunge that turns the tables. When a rider does what Pogačar can do, calmly and quietly dropping, his rivals, practically deciding the race long before it has reached its full distance, it risks removing the entertainment out of watching.
There’s no denying that Pogačar’s solo missions are an impressive feat of physical strength and superb bike handling abilities – few people can hurl it down gravel descents and finesse risky corners like he can – but there comes a point when these performances just get predictable. It’s true that we don’t see a generational talent like Pogačar come round too often, and maybe we should just be happy that we’re getting to witness such greatness, but is it really engaging for the average spectator?
The 24-year-old’s performance at the Jaén Paraiso Interior was almost a carbon copy of what he did at Strade Bianche last year, and what he’ll likely try to do at Strade Bianche again this year. He’ll probably try similar moves at the other Classics, too – he’s already confirmed to be riding Milan-San Remo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, as well as Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
We have hope in these races, though, that Pogačar’s dominance will be quashed by the likes of Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, Remco Evenepoel and others. The field in the Jaén Paraiso Interior wasn’t of the quality that we’ll see in the biggest Classics coming up, so a closer fought race is more likely. Perhaps one stinging Pogačar attack won’t be enough for him to solo away to victory.
Here’s hoping, anyway. Impressive solo breakaways lose their magic over time, it’s no fun knowing the winner of the race when there’s still over an hour left to stare at the TV and watch the same rider turning the pedals over and over with only the motorbike cameraman for company, somehow managing to hold the gap on the chasing group behind. Pogačar has every chance of winning against the aforementioned big name Classics stars over the next couple of months, and I’d be as happy as anyone to see him do that, but let’s keep our fingers crossed for a close fought, exciting race to decide if that happens.